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There can be little dispute that culture influences philosophy: we see this in the way that classical Greek culture influenced Greek philosophy, that Christianity influenced mediaeval western philosophy, that French culture influenced a range of philosophies in France from Cartesianism to post-modernism, and so on.
Yet many philosophical texts and traditions have also been introduced into very different cultures and philosophical traditions than their cultures of origin – through war and colonialization, but also through religion and art, and through commercial relations and globalization. And this raises questions such as: What is it to do French philosophy in Africa, or Analytic philosophy in India, or Buddhist philosophy in North America?
This volume examines the phenomenon of the ‘migration’ of philosophical texts and traditions into other cultures, identifies places where it may have succeeded, but also where it has not, and discusses what is presupposed in introducing a text or a tradition into another intellectual culture.



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Migrating Texts & TraditionsMigrating Texts & Traditions
Edited by William Sweet
Ottawa • University of Ottawa Press • 2012University of Ottawa Press
542 King Edward Avenue
Ottawa, ON K1N 6N5
The University of Ottawa Press acknowledges with gratitude the support extended to its
publishing list by Heritage Canada through the Canada Book Fund, by the Canada Council for the
Arts, by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences through the Awards to Scholarly
Publications Program, by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and by the
University of Ottawa.
We also gratefully acknowledge the Fr. Gatto Chair of Christian Studies at St. Francis Xavier
University whose financial support has contributed to the publication of this book.
eBook development: WildElement.ca
© University of Ottawa Press 2012
“On Being Enabled to Say What Is “Truly Real” © Peter J. McCormick
Migrating texts & traditions [electronic resource] / edited by William Sweet.
Includes bibliographical references and indexes.
Electronic monograph issued in various formats.
Issued also in print format.
ISBN 978-0-7766-2031-2 (PDF).--ISBN 978-0-7766-2032-9 (HTML
1. Philosophy and civilization. 2. Philosophy—Cross-cultural studies.
3. Intercultural communication—History. I. Sweet, William,
1955II. Title: Migrating texts and traditions.
B59.M54 2012----100----C2012-906133-6Table of Contents
Introduction: What Does It Mean for Texts and Traditions to Migrate?
Part I: From the West
thThe Migration of Aristotelian Philosophy to China in the 17 Century
The Reformulation of the Philoponean Proofs in Mediaeval Jewish Thought
Putting Islam and ‘The West’ Together Again: The Philosophy of M. M. Sharif
British Idealism as a Migrating Tradition
The Migration of Ideas and Afrikaans Philosophy in South Africa
Heidegger, Japanese Aesthetics, and the Idea of a ‘Dialogue’ between East and West
Hermeneutics and the Migration of Philosophical Traditions in East Asia
Part II: From the East and the South
Dārā Shukoh and the Transmission of the Upaniṣads to Islam
A Buddhist ‘good life’ Theory: Śāntideva’s Bodhicaryāvatāra
Sharing Insights: Buddhism and Recent Aristotelian Ethics
Process Concepts of Text, Practice, and No Self in Buddhism
On Being Enabled to Say What Is “Truly Real”
The Philosophers of Al Andalus and European Modernity
Radhakrishnan and the Construction of Philosophical Dialogue across Cultural Traditions
Part III: Theoretical Issues
Philosophy-in-Place and Texts Out of Place
Migrating Texts: A Hermeneutical Perspective
Text, Rationality, and Knowledge in Indian Philosophy
Afterword: Migration: Explanation, Analysis, and Directions
ContributorsP r e f a c e
Philosophy is a part of culture, and there is little dispute that culture influences philosophy. Yet
philosophical texts and traditions have been introduced into cultures and philosophical traditions
very different from those of their origin and, in a world in which the recognition of diversity often
competes with calls for unity, it is important to ask how such an introduction is possible. The
claim of the ‘migration’ of texts or traditions from one culture to another is, of course, not a
uniquely philosophical one; we have comparative literature, cross-cultural or comparative
religions, and intercultural or global ethics, in which it seems that we are dealing with the same or
a similar phenomenon. Engaging philosophies outside of one’s own, the project of an intercultural
or comparative philosophy, and even communication among philosophical traditions, all seem to
depend on the possibility of such a migration. The importance of understanding this phenomenon
gave rise to the project on which this volume is based.
I would like to record my thanks to a number of individuals who helped in the discussion and the
initial articulation of this project. To Richard Feist, who served on the organizing committee of the
conference from which this volume took its inspiration and who served as a session chair and
commentator; to Irene Switankowsky, David Savard, and Iain McKenna, who also served as session
chairs and commentators; to the participants and audience at York University, Canada, where
several of these papers were initially presented; and to scholars in Seoul (Korea), Taipei (Taiwan),
Cape Coast (Ghana), and New Delhi (India), where a number of the issues in this volume were also
I am also indebted to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, whose
financial support for the project, “Migrating Texts and Traditions in Philosophy / Textes et
traditions philosophiques : Parcours migratoires”, made this volume possible. I am grateful, as
well, to the Fr Edo Gatto Chair of Christian Studies, St Francis Xavier University, which provided
funding to support initial copyediting of the text.
I would also like to thank Joanne Muzak for the attentive and careful copyediting, and Eric
Nelson and Marie Clausén of the University of Ottawa Press, for their support in bringing this
volume to fruition.
William SweetIntroduction
1What Does It Mean for Texts and Traditions to Migrate?
William Sweet
1. Introduction
It is undeniable that philosophical texts and traditions from one culture are, and have been, found
in very different cultures and intellectual milieus. Consider the presence of Buddhist philosophy in
China, Korea and Japan—and more recently in North America and Europe. From its birthplace in
India, Buddhism spread and developed throughout Asia (as Tibetan but also as East Asian,
including Pure Land and Chan/Zen, in Japan and China, and as Seon in Korea), and also in North
America—for example, Shambhala. Many philosophies originating in the West seem similarly to
have travelled east and south; they have been introduced, and it would seem have been integrated
and appropriated, into non-Western intellectual cultures and traditions. As examples here we can
think of the introduction of schools of British philosophy (e.g., empiricism, utilitarianism, but also
th thidealism) into Southern Africa and India in the 19 and 20 centuries, and of hermeneutics and
postmodern thought into contemporary East Asia. (One notes the use and the translation of texts
by Hans-Georg Gadamer, Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault and many others into
various Asian languages, particularly Chinese.) We find, as well, philosophies and philosophical
texts from one part of the West being introduced into another part of the West. Here, we might
think of works of American political philosophy, such as that of John Rawls, being introduced into
France and translated into French—or, conversely, texts of French philosophy, such as those of
Derrida, being found in the Anglo-American world, and translated into English.
The preceding examples are only a few of the instances of the spread of philosophical texts and
traditions. But some would add that often what we have is not simply their presence in new
environments, but a ‘migration’.
By ‘migration’ here we mean that the text or tradition has come to, has taken root in and
developed, and perhaps sometimes has even flourished in an environment that is far from its
origin, and yet there is also a continuity and consistency—and (with texts) a univocity—with that
origin. And the preceding examples seem to illustrate a thesis that many take for granted when
they read and teach not just the modern and contemporary, but even the classical or mediaeval
philosophers today: that philosophical texts and traditions are not restricted to their cultures of
origin, and that most—if not all—philosophical texts can, in principle, ‘migrate’.
Some may be curious how, in a world marked by so many different cultures, histories and world
views, such a migration occurs. And so they may want to explore what is presupposed or supposed
about cultural traditions, or human nature, or the possibility and nature of knowledge and truth
across cultures. Others, however, go farther; for them, this thesis is far from unproblematic and
uncontroversial. They do not deny that there has been some kind of encounter of the texts, ideas,
and traditions of one culture by others, but they challenge how far or how deep it goes, and they
suggest that the ‘migration’ and appropriation are more apparent than real.
The essays in this volume bear on this issue and consider different examples and understandings
of, and views on, the ‘migration’ of texts and traditions. Many of these essays discuss putative
instances of migration and raise and develop answers to several key questions: What does it mean
for a text or tradition to migrate? Where do we see the migration of a text or tradition? What is
presupposed in introducing a text or a tradition into another (intellectual) culture? What sense can
we make of texts and traditions when they appear in contexts very different from where they
began? These questions, and the general issue they address are not simply matters of the history of
ideas. This issue also raises a number of philosophical concerns—about linguistic or conceptual
commensurability across traditions, but also of what it means to talk of a text or a (philosophical)
tradition or school. It bears on how traditions and the texts that accompany them understand
themselves. It bears on the relevance and place of the moral, political and religious thought of one
part of the globe on the others. It also bears on the possibility of cross-cultural or intercultural
philosophy. To address these issues, then, few philosophers would disagree that (in the words of
Bernard Bosanquet) one needs to move beyond appearances—“the facts as they seem”—and “go2deeper and deeper into the heart of facts as they are.” While the examples these essays discuss are
far from exhaustive—and in no way pretend to be so—they provide some starting points for
examining these questions and this issue as a whole.
2. Challenges
The presence of philosophical texts and traditions outside of their cultures of origin is, as noted
above, undeniable. Yet some would challenge how far or how deep such putative migrations go,
and insist that the conclusions we should draw from the examples given earlier should be very
A first challenge to the thesis of ‘migration’ derives its force from a claim about the relation of
philosophy to culture. A number of authors today argue that philosophies and philosophical
traditions are deeply marked by the cultures in which they arise and that this precludes not only
any direct engagement across traditions on philosophical questions but any attempt at
crosscultural migration of concepts, methods and truth claims. It is not simply that every philosophy
has its source in a particular culture, but that it can never break free of that source. The evidence
for this claim is fairly straightforward.
It is within their cultures that philosophers (like all intellectuals) find the specific problems and
questions that they pursue. Language and values are rooted in culture. Indeed, it is from our
cultures that we learn what counts as philosophy (as distinct from literature, science, history or
religion) and how to distinguish philosophy from the religious, the scientific, the axiological and
the literary. Culture influences in what ‘language’ philosophical questions are expressed and
answered—and even what counts as a satisfactory answer. It is at least in part because of this that,
for some time in the West, the work of figures such as Laozi, Confucius or Sankara, or the traditions
of thought in Asia or Africa or of American aboriginal tribes, were regarded by many as not being
philosophy but rather religion or ‘social practices’ or ‘world views’. Some critics also point to cases
where one tradition or culture lacks the terminology or concepts or even the syntax to permit
problems or concepts of other traditions to be even intelligible—or where a language can ‘tilt’ a
discussion in a way that makes the expression of philosophical issues from one culture awkward or
3irrelevant. This has been a concern, for example, of some African philosophers, particularly on
matters related to metaphysics. For, if there are, in African philosophy, three or four constituent
principles of human being, rather than the traditional two of Western thought (i.e., mind and
body), then such issues as mind/body dualism, or the nature of death as the separation of soul and
4body, are not only not relevant but arguably are not conceptually coherent.
Second, the thesis of ‘migration’ across philosophical and cultural traditions is challenged by an
account of the character of philosophy itself. R. G. Collingwood writes of philosophy as involving a
5method of ‘question and answer’—of “asking questions and answering them”. And so, in order to
understand what exactly a philosopher said or meant, we need to know the question that she or he
sought to answer. If this is so, then how a text from another context can migrate and integrate is,
at the very least, rather complicated. Prior to employing a text from another culture as possibly
providing an answer to one’s philosophical problems, we must, presumably, engage in a ‘mini
history of philosophy’ to discern the question giving rise to that text in the first place. And if we
do not or cannot know the questions that gave rise to that text, then whatever ‘answers’ we think
we find may not be those of the text. Indeed, they may not be ‘answers’ to our questions at all. In
such a case, the text is, at best, the occasion for a philosophical reflection; there is, however, no
6reason to believe that the text actually has any bearing on the question we are considering. While
this challenge does not absolutely exclude migration, it does suggest that, to show the relevance of
a particular philosophical text, we may first have to go through a lengthy preliminary process,
7perhaps something like Collingwood’s theory of re-enactment —and even then how far that text is
germane can still be contested.
Third, the thesis that texts and traditions migrate, or can be understood within and assimilated
into other philosophical traditions, seems also to be challenged by a relatively recent claim found
in Alasdair MacIntyre, concerning the nature and role of terms and concepts in relation to
traditions. MacIntyre notes, for example, that, in our contemporary philosophical—and,particularly, ethical—vocabulary, we have terms and concepts coming from a range of texts and
traditions, but lacking any particular coherence or consistency. Now, when people share a
language, or live together, they may believe that they share a broader overall culture and tradition
—and so they may think that they can understand one another quite well and that there is no
problem in communicating with each other and working together on philosophical problems. But,
MacIntyre writes, this view flies in the face of experience; for example, “nothing is more striking in
the contemporary university than the extent of the apparently ineliminable continuing divisions
8and conflicts within all humanistic enquiry.”
For MacIntyre, moral beliefs and practices are constituted or formed by the traditions in which
they are found. Each tradition has its own vocabulary, “its own standards of rational justification . .
9. [and] its set of authoritative texts.” Different texts and traditions—and the corresponding beliefs
and epistemic and moral practices—may bring with them different standards of reasonableness, or
justification, or proof. And so, when
debate between fundamentally opposed standpoints does occur . . . it is inevitably inconclusive.
Each warring position characteristically appears irrefutable to its own adherents; indeed in its
own terms and by its own standards of argument it is in practice irrefutable. But each warring
10position equally seems to its opponents to be insufficiently warranted by rational argument.
This is not to say that there cannot be any communication across traditions, but MacIntyre would
insist that it is much more challenging than many realize. Clearly, texts, traditions and beliefs
come into contact with, and in some way cross into, other traditions. But fruitful contact or
integration is far from automatic and, even when they do occur, this is the result of a good deal of
prior discernment by a person of ‘practical wisdom’. In many if not most cases, MacIntyre’s
argument suggests, ‘migration’ is problematic. Before we can think of our views migrating,
however, we need, at the very least, to be conscious of the contextually embeddedness or
traditionbased character of our beliefs and of our conception of reason and argument—and those of others.
Since there are many traditions, sometimes radically distinct, and each with their ‘final
vocabularies’, there is an incommensurability among them—and no formal rule for how to go
beyond the differences.
There are, of course, many other challenges that bear on the issue of migration, and which
require an answer as well. They include, to begin with, how one is to define ‘text’ and ‘tradition’—
what constitutes a ‘text’ or ‘tradition’. A second concern is that the phenomenon of migration and
integration or appropriation seems to make a number of epistemological assumptions. What does
it mean to introduce and appropriate an idea, text, or tradition? Are there common or sharable
cognitive structures, criteria for meaning and truth, and standards of justification and truth that
allow for such introduction and appropriation, or even communication? And what exactly is it that
is able to migrate? Are traditions commensurable—or can one expect only the commensurability of
individual statements? One may also ask whether the putative existence of migration would not
entail the possibility of or a foundation for a ‘universal’ or an intercultural philosophy, or whether
this would mean that there is some kind of cross-cultural truth and objectivity.
The preceding challenges and concerns are clearly forceful, and invite a response.
3. Migrations
To obtain more insight into this alleged phenomenon of ‘migration’, what the notion presupposes
or entails, and whether and how far the preceding challenges stand, the authors in this volume
present and discuss a number of examples.
In Part I (From the West), the authors examine a number of cases where it has been claimed that
there has been a migration of what may be considered as ‘Western’ ideas. In “The Migration of
thAristotelian Philosophy to China in the 17 Century”, Vincent Shen examines the introduction of
Western philosophy to China by Jesuit philosophers such as Julius Aleni (1582–1649). Shen
describes how, first, Aleni and others recognized the need to find ways to make Western
philosophical and theological ideas less ‘foreign’ to the Chinese. Their solution was to attempt to
find suitable texts—and they focused on the work of Aristotle, which they believed had parallels
with ideas in the Chinese traditions. Specifically, the approach that Aleni and others took was tobegin by introducing Aristotle the person—telling the story of Aristotle (e.g., identifying him as a
sage)—and then producing Chinese ‘translations’ of certain of Aristotle’s works—or, to be more
precise, summaries and introductions to them in Chinese, which presented elements of his
philosophy that addressed Chinese interests. Not infrequently they also employed a dialogical
structure, which mirrored the approach taken in classical Chinese texts. After focusing on areas
such as moral philosophy and ethical values, they were able to present an Aristotelian philosophy
of nature and theory of soul (in, for example, Aleni’s Xingxue Cushu) in Chinese terms. In this way,
some aspects of Western philosophical thought were able to move into a Chinese context.
The introduction of ideas from one culture into a new environment may take the form not only of
continuing a tradition but of adapting texts, arguments and sometimes simply concepts. Gyongyi
Hegedus (“The Reformulation of the Philoponean Proofs in Mediaeval Jewish Thought”) focuses on
a case of philosophical proofs taken from one context and employed in another. She considers one
of the central figures in early mediaeval Jewish thought, Saadya Gaon, who was born in Egypt in
882 CE, became the head rabbi of the Sura Academy in Babylonia, and who died in Baghdad in 942
CE. Engaged in debates between Muslim and Jewish thinkers concerning fundamental questions of
faith, Saadya sought to provide arguments for the existence of God, based on his view that creation
was ex nihilo. To do this, Saadya turned to a rather different tradition—to arguments from the
Christian theologian and scientist, John Philoponus (490–570). Saadya’s formulation of these
arguments differs from that of Philoponus, and there is a significant divergence in their respective
epistemologies and the accounts of creation. Nevertheless, Hegedus argues, because of the
scientific character of these proofs, through Saadya the Philoponean arguments were able to
migrate from a late classical Christian metaphysical context to that of the early Middle Ages in
Another example of traditions and texts from the West that had an influence within the Islamic
th‘east’ is to be found in the work of one of the most influential Muslim philosophers of the 20
century, Mian Mohammad Sharif (1893–1965). In “Putting Islam and ‘The West’ Together Again:
The Philosophy of M. M. Sharif”, Leslie Armour focuses on Sharif’s philosophy of history, tracing
its roots through European philosophers—such as Sharif’s Cambridge tutor, the British idealist J.
M. E. McTaggart, as well as Hegel, Kant and Leibniz—but also following a lineage that goes back to
Ibn Sina, Dirar ibn ‘Amr, Gregory of Nyssa and Philo. This philosophy of history requires, Armour
maintains, determining the conditions under which experience of the divine—or, indeed, any
experience—is possible. And so, key to Sharif’s account is an investigation of the self and its place
as a condition for knowledge. (Sharif interestingly distinguishes between the self as the base, and
as the basis for knowledge.) In order to explain what this self is, Sharif proposes a “dialectical
monadism”. This view clearly draws on Sharif’s interest in Leibniz, and Sharif follows a Leibnizian
account of monads as immanent and yet transcending entities. But Armour adds that the basis of
the activity of these monads is, for Sharif, an Absolute, and it is a view with not only metaphysical,
but ethical implications—implications about ideals. The search for ideals, according to Sharif,
produces common ideas. With the example of Sharif, then, one can say that ideas and strands of
philosophy can migrate across traditions and integrate. Armour also suggests that one could go
even further and say that this migration shows that philosophical ideas are the common property
of all humanity.
th thIn “British Idealism as a Migrating Tradition”, I look at late-19 - and early-20 -century British
idealist thought as an example of a philosophical tradition that was able to cross not only borders
but linguistic and cultural divides. Found in Canada, Australia, South Africa and India, as well as
thSouth and East Asia, this idealism arguably had a distinctive influence in the late 19 and
thparticularly the early 20 century. I begin by identifying some of the scholars in these countries
who either had emigrated from Britain, or who were their students. Then, I show not only how
British Idealism had a presence in this ‘diaspora’ but how and where it was taken up and
developed. Not infrequently, these scholars continued to draw on an idealist vocabulary and
methodology, and applied its insights to contemporary philosophical, social, political and
religious problems—in the process providing either new interpretations of idealist thought or
extending it in new directions. For example, in South Africa, British idealism had a particular
influence in political thought; in Canada, in matters of religion and public policy; and in India, in
metaphysics and in ethics.In “The Migration of Ideas and Afrikaans Philosophy in South Africa”, Pieter Duvenage focuses on
some aspects of the movement of ideas from Europe to parts of Southern Africa, which gave rise to
what is arguably a new tradition or approach—Afrikaans philosophy. Like Sweet, Duvenage points
th thout that philosophy in South Africa was importantly influenced by late-19 - and early-20 -
century British idealism, largely because of Britain’s place as a colonial power, which established
the foundational academic institutions in the country, but also because of the resonance of its ideas
with a number of existential concerns of the Afrikaner community. Eventually, however, Afrikaner
philosophers came to react against this idealism and, drawing on continental philosophy and
phenomenology, developed what Duvenage describes as an “indigenous” Afrikaans approach to
philosophy. The ‘emigration’ of ideas, then, clearly does not simply lead to continuing established
traditions but can provide the grounds for articulating new ‘traditions’ in response.
In the final two chapters of Part I, Chinatsu Kobayashi and Cristal Huang discuss the presence of
modern European philosophy in East Asia. In “Heidegger, Japanese Aesthetics, and the Idea of a
‘Dialogue’ between East and West”, Kobayashi focuses on the presence and influence of Martin
Heidegger’s writings in modern Japanese philosophy as well as the claims that have been made for
seeing Heidegger’s work as providing a basis for cross-cultural dialogue. Kobayashi begins by
raising the issue of what such an influence or migration of ideas presupposes and notes her
skepticism about whether we can speak of either European or Japanese traditions as “fully formed”
or as constituting “definite monolithic traditions that developed in complete independence and
which are to meet and enter into this ‘dialogue.’” She then turns to the issue of the migration of
concepts and the possibility of philosophical traditions borrowing conceptual terminology from
one another. Here, Kobayashi examines at length the views of the Japanese philosopher, Shūzō Kuki
(1888–1941). Kuki—like, and in relation to, Heidegger—argued against the possibility of grasping
certain concepts, such as iki ( い き or 粋), by those outside of the Japanese tradition. If the views of
Kuki and Heidegger are correct, this would entail that the migration of philosophical ideas and
traditions is impossible. Kobayashi, however, challenges this idea.
Cristal Huang considers the place of (Western) hermeneutics in contemporary East Asian thought
and, by way of illustration, focuses on how it is engaged in Taiwan. In “Hermeneutics and the
Migration of Philosophical Traditions in East Asia”, Huang refers to the presence of hermeneutical
methods from the West in contemporary Asian thought but also notes that such methods are
broadly parallel to those found within Chinese traditions; she refers, for example, to the history of
interpretations of ‘poems’—the answers to prayers—in Chinese thought. Moreover, given the
familiarity with Western thought in contemporary Asian education, she also notes that it has been
relatively easy to introduce European approaches there. Huang finds Paul Ricoeur’s approach
particularly helpful, as it draws on earlier German and French hermeneutics as well as semiotics.
But no one ‘school’ of hermeneutics is paradigmatic. For traditions to migrate from the past to the
present, or for philosophical approaches to migrate and interact, hermeneutics is necessary, and
Huang emphasizes the importance of practicing hermeneutics in order to teach hermeneutics.
Moreover, hermeneutics is important, Huang argues, not just for scholarly purposes but for
understanding one’s own culture and traditions—an issue of particular importance to
contemporary Taiwanese.
What we see in these essays, then, is that ‘Western’ concepts, ideas, texts and traditions are not
only present in cultures outside the West but, however varied, they appear to have taken root in
and extended themselves in these new environments—and have even given rise to new traditions.
Yet the migration is not just one way.
The movement of texts and traditions into ‘the West’ has a lengthy history, but in its details it
may be less known to scholars. In Part II (From the East and the South), the authors present
examples of philosophies from other parts of the globe that have found their way into the West and
into larger, or international, spheres.
There has, of course, been a long interest in philosophies of ‘the East’ and ‘the South’ (i.e.,
philosophies rooted in, or reflecting the traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism or Islam). We see this in
th ththe work of the great ‘orientalists’ and Indologists of the 19 and 20 centuries, such as Max
Müller (1823–1900) and A. F. R. Hoernlé (1841–1918). For example, Müller’s translations and
editions of the major texts of the great Asian religious traditions, in the fifty-volume Sacred Books
of the East series (published by Oxford University Press, 1879–1910), provided an introduction andaccess to the ‘East’ for a large number of Western scholars, and contributed not only to philology,
but also to the development of philosophy, religious studies, and the like. But, as the authors in
Part II point out, we see this migration in a number of other examples as well.
In “Dārā Shukoh and the Transmission of the Upaniṣads to Islam”, Jonardon Ganeri considers the
movement of Upanisadic texts from their ‘home’ (in Sanskrit) into Persian—from which the 1804
Latin translation (by A. H. Anquetil-Duperron) was made, and from which, in turn, Schopenhauer
thand other philosophers of the early 19 century drew for their knowledge of Hindu philosophy.
thThis movement began, as Ganeri points out, in the mid-17 century, when the Mughal leader Dārā
Shukoh—because of his “religious cosmopolitanism”, his Sufism, and his belief that there was an
affinity between Hinduism and Islam—commissioned a Persian translation of the Upanisads.
According to Ganeri, Shukoh believed that the Upanisads supplied answers to the problems that he
had encountered in his own studies of Sufism; indeed, he saw the Upanisads as providing a more
detailed account of Sufi truths. This kind of inclusivism—and Shukoh’s assumption of a ‘notational
congruence’ between Hinduism and Islam—allowed the (Persian/Muslim) translators to bring
Islam into “isomorphism” with terms and concepts drawn from Indian literature, and enabled the
Muslim readers of the Hindu texts “to appropriate the [Upanisadic] text as speaking about his or
her own [Persian/Islamic] concepts, saints, and doctrines.” The translations of the texts that
followed were, in fact, reasonably faithful to the originals. There was a philosophical implication of
this as well. Shukoh believed that “the stranger [i.e., here, the Hindu text] is a means by which we
see ourselves more clearly”—it allows one to know oneself better—though he also held that
(paradoxically) by “allowing itself to be so used . . . the migrating text [was able] to retain its own
secrets.” Ganeri concludes that there is, then, a “hermeneutical continuity” between Shukoh’s Sufi
beliefs and the philosophy of the Upanisads, but notes that this continuity may, in fact, reflect an
earlier migration of Indian thought, through that of Plotinus, to Islamic thought as well. Thus,
while one can plausibly identify some of the lines of influence on Islamic thought from ‘outside’
texts and traditions, Ganeri notes that such a mode of ‘transmission’ may also allow the original
text to “retain its secrets”.
An increasing number of Western scholars have come to engage Buddhist thought, and a central
question has been whether, and if so how far, philosophical views and traditions so apparently
different from those of the West can actually ‘migrate’ into Western cultures and traditions. As
noted earlier, such a migration seems clearly to have happened within the East; one finds
Buddhism thriving in cultures far from its place of origin, throughout Asia. What can we make of
its more recent appearance in North America and Europe?
In “A Buddhist ‘good life’ Theory: Santideva’s Bodhicaryavatara”, Linda Patrik argues that there is
a profound, radically incommensurable difference between Buddhism and Western ethical thought
—that there is a considerable conceptual disparity, as well as differences in method, approach and
ethical end, between Western ethical traditions and those, for example, of Tibetan Buddhism. There
are, then, considerable obstacles to each understanding the other. Nevertheless, despite these
differences, Patrik hints that some migration of ideas may be possible. Though she does not say in
what this migration might consist, she notes that some Buddhist teachers “can interpret Mahayana
theories across conceptual barriers” and that the traditions may be able to meet and engage—
though arguably “only through one who masters both.”
Sheila Mason (“Sharing Insights: Buddhism and Recent Aristotelian Ethics”) does not claim that
migration of Buddhism into ‘the West’ has happened but suggests that it is possible. She considers
some recent work in “neo-Aristotelian” or virtue ethics and draws a number of parallels or
similarities with Tibetan Buddhism. This, Mason believes, is a first stage in the migration of
Buddhist concepts, approaches and texts into non-Buddhist traditions. Among the important
similarities between Buddhism and contemporary neo-Aristotelianism, for example, is the focus on
the transformation of character, based on cultivating our ability to always ‘remember’ what we
know to be good when we are acting (i.e., on a moral sensitivity or a capacity for discernment).
While it is true that there are notable differences between Buddhism and neo-Aristotelianism (e.g.,
in how one acquires virtue), and while some of the virtues identified may vary (e.g., compassion),
Mason points out how Buddhist ideas might develop the insights of Aristotelian virtue theory.
These similarities, parallels and congruities may explain how Buddhist traditions and texts have
come to the West in a way in which other Asian traditions have not—and they also suggest thatBuddhist thought may be seen as a way of completing the Aristotelian project.
Another approach to the putative ‘migration’ of Buddhism points to a way in which its texts can
or should be read. Frank J. Hoffman (“Process Concepts of Text, Practice, and No Self in Buddhism”)
draws on the notion of the self in Buddhism in order to provide an illustration of how migration
can take place. Hoffman suggests that there is a parallel between the migration of ‘the self’ in
Buddhism, and the migration of texts and practices in general. The process concept of the self can
help us to understand the process concept of text; just as selves are ‘open’, change in migration,
and yet retain identity, so Hoffman believes that texts can be open textured and can change in
migration—with even significant changes in meaning—while nevertheless remaining regulative
and well-established. If such a process of development is plausible, then texts can not only be
introduced but can migrate into new environments. Unlike selves, however, texts obviously cannot
do this on their own. Thus, Hoffman also draws our attention to the role in the migration of texts
played by minority groups in new environments—that such groups, knowledgeable of the culture
of origin of a text, can serve as a ‘medium’ to the majority culture, and that the migration occurs
through them.
The reading and migration of texts is, nevertheless, very challenging. In “On Being Enabled to
Say What Is ‘Truly Real’”, Peter J. McCormick considers the migration or transmission of ideas
from Japanese cultures through the translation of Japanese texts into English. McCormick’s focus is
on the challenges encountered by the Japanese scholar Dennis Hirota to ‘read’ in English and to
translate texts of the mediaeval Japanese Buddhist teacher, Shinran. McCormick notes, however,
that this is but one aspect of a larger issue, and that is, given the general incapacity of language to
present reality plainly and completely, and given that “all of our uses of language necessarily
distort the ways things truly are”, whether reality can ever be grasped. In light of these problems
inherent in texts and traditions, migration is clearly extraordinarily challenging. Nevertheless,
following the example of Hirota’s work, McCormick finds that migration may be possible, at least
in a weak sense, by “getting into language in a certain way.” One may, therefore, be able to move
“through language” to grasp, albeit imperfectly, what one is trying to say.
In the two essays concluding Part II, the authors focus on traditions more than on texts and
consider how these traditions have had a place in influencing Western thought. The role of Islamic
philosophy in relation to Western thought has widely been held to have been that of conserver and
transmitter of the classical Greek traditions. In “The Philosophers of Al Andalus and European
Modernity”, David Lea argues that this role was much more profound, and that certain distinctive
elements of Islamic thought found their way into the central views of some of the major figures of
European modernity. Lea points out that one of the characteristic features of early modern
thought, such as that of Descartes, Rousseau, and Kant, was the concept of an autonomous reason,
possessed by all individuals, and independent of one’s relations to community. This, Lea argues, is
in no way inherited from classical Greek philosophy but has its roots in the mediaeval Islamic
thinkers Ibn Sina, Ibn Baijja and Ibn Tufayl. Lea does not discuss whether this putative influence
was direct or indirect, or how specifically it may have come about. He acknowledges, as well, that
the understanding of autonomous reason within the European traditions is not a mere repetition of
the mediaeval Arabic view. Nevertheless, Lea does insist that not only has this distinctive
Andalusian notion of autonomous reason had an important role in the West, but that the way in
which this notion was interpreted in European thought explains some of the contemporary
divisions between the West and Islam.
thThe relation of Indian thought in the 20 century to the West has been little discussed. Yet
thperhaps the best-known academic philosopher of India in the 20 century is Sarvepalli
Radhakrishnan. Educated in Christian schools and colleges in India under the British Raj,
Radhakrishnan was the author of a number of books and essays presenting Indian philosophies to
the rest of the world. In “Radhakrishnan and the Construction of Philosophical Dialogue across
Cultural Traditions”, Denys P. Leighton reminds us that Radhakrishnan’s role was not merely—or
even importantly—that of an expositor but also that of one who sought to bring the Indian
traditions into a broader philosophical exchange and to construct philosophical dialogue across
traditions. Such efforts at introducing, adapting and extending Indian traditions, by
Radhakrishnan and others, have been criticized by some for being simply instances of ‘colonial
knowledge’—as presenting Indian tradition in a way that is wholly subject to the dominantperspective of a foreign culture. Yet this, as Leighton suggests, is surely too simplistic a way of
understanding the development, and migration, of Indian traditions in Radhakrishnan’s work.
Leighton therefore situates Radhakrishnan’s ideas within a larger context. He notes that
Radhakrishnan did seek to bring Indian thought systems into some kind of reconciliation with the
West, and that he found ways of doing so by his advocacy of a philosophical view close to that of
the British absolute idealists, and by his sometimes unorthodox readings of the Advaita tradition.
Yet Radhakrishnan also importantly challenged the Western view of his times, which held that the
West had a stronger claim to be philosophy. Leighton notes that Radhakrishnan’s views may also
have been particularly apt in promoting a religiously pluralistic democracy at a crucial time in
India’s history. While some of Radhakrishnan’s work may have been close to British thought, it
nevertheless served to make a broad philosophical point by its emphasis on moral theory in
philosophy at a time when ethics was having an increasingly diminished role in Western thought.
At the very least, at its origins, Radhakrishnan’s view engaged western thought so much that
11some, such as C. E. M. Joad, saw it as constituting a “counter attack from the East.” In both of
these cases, then, the authors make the argument for non-Western thought as having a role in the
development of ideas—as these ideas were understood in the West but also in the engagement of
Western ideas within non-Western environments.
The essays in Part II, then, acknowledge to a greater degree than those in Part I, the challenges of
communicating and, thereby, of migrating ‘from the east and the south’. Texts and traditions may
not be immediately, or at all, translatable. Nevertheless, none would deny that some
communication, and even development with or through other traditions, are possible. The
openness of texts and traditions (and their ability to respond to novelty and new experience), the
role of ‘the medium’—persons conversant with different traditions, or with the language of the
text, or of the process of pursuing philosophical investigations together—all suggest some points
of contact and access, if not more.
Clearly, however, something needs to be said about the conditions under which communication
and migration are possible. While the preceding essays provide examples of the influences but also
of challenges to influence, in Part III (Theoretical Issues), the authors offer three distinct general
discussions of whether and how it is that texts and traditions might be said to migrate.
Bruce Janz (“Philosophy-in-Place and Texts Out of Place”) adopts a broadly hermeneutical
approach and analyzes the phenomenon of migrating texts and traditions by drawing on a model
thof philosophy that he calls “philosophy-in-place”. Following the 20 -century thinkers, Gilles
Deleuze (1925–1995) and Félix Guattari (1930–1992), Janz reminds us of a number of assumptions
that are involved in speaking of the migration of texts. The first involves the relation of philosophy
to ‘place’, with regard to both the place of origin of the text as well as its ‘destination’; as R. G.
Collingwood had earlier noted, “place matters”. A second assumption concerns the character of
texts—what a text is, is not, Janz claims, a quality of the text itself, but is determined by whether
and how it engages and is engaged by its readers. Third, we have to be attentive to the notion of
migration and of what it is, exactly, that migrates. Janz holds that, given our understanding of
what a ‘text’ is, whether and how it can ‘migrate’ depends on how it is approached and engaged in
its (new) environment. Indeed, Janz proposes the view that there are no philosophical texts as such,
but simply texts that can be engaged ‘philosophically’, that is, with disciplined questioning, and
which provide the opportunity for more questions. Janz suggests that, in their ‘migration’, texts
may occasion new concepts and new philosophical readings and, hence, that ‘place’ gives rise to
their philosophical character. Traditions, one supposes, can be constructed depending on how
these texts are read.
In “Migrating Texts: A Hermeneutical Perspective”, Kuan-Min Huang takes another kind of
hermeneutical approach and reflects on the nature of text, its relation to place, and the manner of
its appropriation—for example, how it is read. Huang argues that if we adopt such an approach, we
see the important relation between text and place. A text is, in the first instance, appropriate to a
place. But a text is also related to the reader—indeed, they are “mutually bound”. When one speaks
of the migration of a text, then, Huang suggests that place is, in a sense, suspended or
transformed. Drawing extensively on Paul Ricoeur and Jean-Luc Nancy, Huang explores this notion
of place by looking at the idea of limit and how one approaches or touches the limit. This bears on
the possibility of a “nonplace”, in which the (migrating) text may be said to exist.Finally, in “Text, Rationality, and Knowledge in Indian Philosophy,” Eliot Deutsch discusses the
role of tradition in the migration of texts and ideas. To illustrate this, he focuses on the question of
the conditions of a migration of ‘Eastern’ philosophies into the ‘West’. Deutsch points out that, in
the Vedantic traditions, the ‘text’ is the sutra, together with the exegesis and commentary, so that
we have what he calls a “tradition text”. In this sense, then, not only is the text an ongoing work
but it can be understood only together with tradition; text and tradition are inseparable. Moreover,
for any such migration, one must understand the suppositions and presuppositions of traditions.
Thus, even though both the Indian and the Western philosophical traditions are concerned with
identifying the conditions for correct thinking, what truth is concerned with differs. In the Indian
traditions, for example, truth is a product of cognition, not propositions, and establishing truth is
a practical and not simply a theoretical activity. This is not to say that this is an impediment to the
migration of texts and traditions, but that, in order to engage a text outside its ‘tradition’ of
origin, one must first have an understanding of what it means to have a philosophical text, a sense
of the underlying accounts of truth and of rationality and the relation of the text to cultural values.
Do these three accounts go far enough? What exactly is the relation of text and tradition? What
constitutes a tradition, and how do we determine whether an author or text is part of it? What are
the consequences of seeing philosophy as deeply rooted in culture? Is there commensurability
across traditions? While place matters to text and its meaning, how is it that some texts can
change place easily and others cannot? The volume concludes with an Afterword, “Migration:
Explanation, Analysis, and Directions”, in which I consider the kinds of explanations one might
give for the migration of texts and traditions into environments far from those of their origin.
Some explanations are historical or sociological—for example, that ideas are introduced through
colonialism, political or economic—and some simply reflect intellectual curiosity or a sense that
one’s own traditions are no longer adequate. But I also suggest that there may be deeper,
epistemological or ontological reasons why some traditions succeed in migration and others do
not—and note that it is here that further research needs to be done.
4. Orientations
The essays in this volume provide a range of examples, from classical, mediaeval, and modern
authors, and from eastern, western, and southern traditions. There are, we find, a number of
instances of the presence of texts and traditions in cultures and philosophies far from their
cultures of origin.
While obviously not exhaustive, the essays that follow propose to address the issue of the
migration of texts and traditions by responding to four central questions: What are some of the
instances of the presence of, or what we may call the migration of, texts and traditions? What is
involved in migration—epistemologically (in terms of how traditions are understood, continued
and communicated), but also historically and socially (in terms of the factors and challenges that
bear on laying the groundwork for, but also promoting or accelerating, migration)? A third
question is what does the possibility (or difficulty) of migration tell us about the relation of
philosophy to culture? But there is also, at the very least, a key fourth question: is there anything
within a tradition or text that might contribute to its ability to migrate or to communicate across
boundaries and cultures? In short, when and why is a text or tradition not merely present but one
that can migrate?
These essays do not pretend to address or solve all of the issues associated with the presence or
migration of texts and traditions. Indeed, no doubt several of the authors in this volume would
disagree with one another on the answers to the central issues. They do, however, propose to
advance our understanding of whether—and, if so, how—texts and traditions can migrate.
These essays, then, seek not only to respond to questions that bear on the history of ideas but to
address a number of issues that concern, inter alia, contemporary ethics, epistemology, and
political thought. Through their examples and analyses of what must be considered if we are to
speak of the migration of texts and traditions, they also make us more aware of our own
assumptions about philosophy and culture, of the ways of communicating among philosophical
traditions and cultures—and also of the philosophical contributions of other cultures. They also
encourage readers to reflect on the explanations for a migration of texts and traditions—of what
must occur for texts and traditions to migrate, on how one might respond to the challenges tomigration, and on whether those examples can provide any guidance for the communication and
migration of ideas in the contemporary world. Some answers may suggest themselves
immediately. The challenge throughout is, however, that we need to avoid superficial analogies
and responses and, instead, in Bosanquet’s words, “go deeper and deeper into the heart of facts as
they are.”
1 Part II of this Introduction draws on my paper “Intercultural Philosophy and the Phenomenon of
Migrating Texts and Traditions,” in Comparative and Intercultural Philosophy, ed. Hans Lenk
(Berlin: LIT Verlag, 2009), 39–58.
2 Bernard Bosanquet, “Idealism in Social Work,” in Essays on ‘Aspects of the Social Problem’ and
Essays on Social Policy, in The Collected Works of Bernard Bosanquet, vol. 14, ed. William Sweet
(Bristol, UK: Thoemmes Press, 1999), 151 (originally published in The Charity Organisation
Review, n.s. 3 [1898]: 122–133).
3 For more on this, see my “Culture and Pluralism in Philosophy,” in Philosophy, Culture, and
Pluralism, ed. William Sweet (Aylmer, QC: Editions du scribe, 2002), v–xxi. It has been claimed,
for example, that some philosophers may simply not understand the views of philosophers from
other cultures (because their own philosophical views are so culturally laden that they cannot
recognize the propositions and conceptual structures of other cultures; or because they are so
immersed in their own approach that they cannot recognize that they have an approach).
4 See, for example, Chibueze Udeani, “The Body-Mind-Spirit Relationship within the African
World-View,” Philosophy, Culture, and Traditions 2 (2003): 57–62.
5 R. G. Collingwood, The New Leviathan, 2nd ed., ed. David Boucher (Oxford University Press,
1999), 74. Collingwood writes that “every statement that anybody ever makes is made in answer
to a question”, and that “in order to find out [a philosopher’s] meaning you must also know what
the question was . . . to which the thing he [or she] has said or written was meant as an answer”.
An Essay on Metaphysics, 3rd ed, revised, ed. Rex Martin (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002),
23; An Autobiography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1939), 31. (It is interesting that
HansGeorg Gadamer finds a link with Collingwood in Gadamer’s own logic of question and answer,
which he develops in Wahrheit und Methode [1960].) See Gadamer, Truth and Method (New York:
Seabury Press, 1975), 333.
6 Another interesting implication of Collingwood’s views, however, is that genuine disagreement
may be less common that we might think for, “two propositions do not contradict each other
unless they are answers to the same question.” Collingwood, Autobiography, 33. Collingwood’s
method is, in a sense, backward looking (and hence reflects hermeneutics), but it is also forward
looking, for it also provides a way of pursuing future enquiries on a topic. And this, together
with the theory of re-enactment, provides a basis for a recognition of the role of history and
culture that is consistent with a rejection of relativism, subjectivism and historicism.
7 See, The Idea of History, ed. T. M. Knox (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1946), 215; Autobiography,
110–114. See also, for example, W. H. Dray, History as Re-enactment: R. G. Collingwood’s Idea of
History (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999).
8 Alasdair MacIntyre, Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry (London: Duckworth, 1990), 6.
9 Alasdair MacIntyre, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame
Press, 1988), 345.
1 0 MacIntyre, Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry, 7. MacIntyre provides a series of caveats,
however, starting on page 5.
1 1 See Joad’s Counter Attack from the East: The Philosophy of Radhakrishnan (London: George
Allen & Unwin, 1933).Part I
From the WestChapter 1
thThe Migration of Aristotelian Philosophy to China in the 17 Century
Vincent Shen
Migration of Aristotle as Rewriting Aristotle
Aristotle was the first among the Western philosophers to be systematically introduced into China
thby the Jesuits in the 17 century. The person of Aristotle and Scholastic commentaries on
Aristotle’s philosophy were introduced and translated, or better, rewritten, into Chinese. The
attempt to systematically introduce Aristotle’s philosophy was one of the missionary projects of
Matteo Ricci and his colleagues in China, supposed by them to be a country of philosophers or run
by philosophers. We could call this, therefore, the migration of Aristotle’s philosophy from the
Western world to another world of philosophers in the East.
In Julius Aleni’s Xixuefan (Introduction to Western Sciences), Aristotle was taken to be the major
philosopher in the West, while St. Thomas was seen as the major theologian. Aleni (1582–1649)
introduced Aristotle as someone who had thoroughly studied all things, their causes and their
classification. “He has penetrated and understood in a comprehensive way all that which belongs
to human learning (renxue), and therefore has well prepared the way to heavenly learning
1(tianxue).” For Aleni, philosophy prepared the way for theology, and Aristotle prepared the way
for the Christian faith. For that purpose, Aleni explicitly talked about his translation project of
Aristotelian works.
As for those who learn theology, there will absolutely be none who can achieve it without
philosophy. That’s why we who travel from as far as ninety thousands li are willing to translate
into Chinese all the previous mentioned treatises. We will be able to finish translating them by
using more than some ten years, so that those in their younger days with good talent start to
learn them progressively with their innocent heart . . . in order that the sciences of sages in the
Eastern sea and Western sea will be able to meet in one thread leading to a harmonious
These words of Aleni, while making explicit the Jesuits’ project to translate major Aristotelian
works into Chinese, also revealed their idea of synthesizing philosophy, East and West, through the
mediation of Aristotelian philosophy, reinterpreted by Christian faith and in need of
recontextualization in China. With the progress of their missionary work and the deepening of
their understanding of Chinese culture and thought, this project of translation turned out to be a
project of ‘rewriting’, as will be shown later.
Introducing Aristotle the Person to the Chinese
The migration of a Western philosopher’s works to China cannot occur without also introducing
the philosopher as a person. The Chinese would not accept the idea that one can read a
philosophical text without referring to the person of the author. Here we see the deep influence of
Mencius, who said, “Can we go without knowing an author when we sing his poems and read his
books? This is why we should discuss his times, which is the way to befriend an author in the
3past.” This saying suggests that, when one reads a book, one should know the person of the
author and his time.
thThe Jesuit fathers who came from Europe to China in the late 16 century soon became very well
versed in Confucian work. They seemed to have caught on to the importance of the human person
to the Chinese mind. Thus, both Aristotle’s person and his works were introduced to the Chinese.
As to the person of Aristotle, he was quite often referred to by the early Jesuits in China as a great
worthy or a sage in his time in order to gain for him a significant influence on both Chinese
intellectuals and the common people. Many stories were told about him, even more than those
about St. Thomas so that Aristotle might look more impressive to Chinese scholars. For example,
when discussing the teaching of philosophy, Aleni introduced Aristotle as a great figure who hadonce served as the teacher of Alexander the Great. Aleni recounted Alexander the Great’s words,
“It’s not my glory to be the king of all under heaven, yet it is my true glory to have Aristotle as my
4teacher.” This story emphasized the role of philosophy over political power, and of Aristotle as
teacher to an emperor, something easily understandable by Chinese intellectuals in the Middle
5Kingdom who emphasized, according to the Jesuits’ understanding, philosophical governance.
Another story about Aristotle in the Suida (Dialogue on Sleeping), by Francesco Sambiasi, said that
Aristotle, in concentrating on his study, would hold a brass ball at hand, which, when Aristotle felt
6tired, would fall upon a brass gong to prevent him from falling asleep. This kind of story of
Aristotle’s diligence would be very impressive to the Chinese and would make Aristotle seem
familiar to Chinese scholars who were encouraged to work hard. There are many traditional stories
in China of scholars who hung their hair to a beam or who stabbed their legs with an awl point to
prevent themselves from sleeping while studying.
Another story about Aristotle introduced to impress Chinese intellectuals was the story about
Aristotle’s death, narrated at the start of the Chinese version of Aristotle’s De Categoriae, the Mingli
Tan (Investigation of Names and Principles). In his last years, Aristotle withdrew to Charcis in Euboea
where the tide of the Euripan sea advanced and receded seven times daily. There it was said,
Aristotle wanted to investigate the cause; he strove to investigate and ponder. For years he did
not become weary, but in old age he contracted an illness. When it was about to reach its crisis
he still prayed very earnestly to the Creator: “the very first cause of the myriad of things, take
7pity and reveal to me the truth!”
It is evident that this story was told by the early Jesuits in China to communicate the idea of the
limitation of human knowledge and the necessity to refer to the tianxue (heavenly knowledge) or to
revelation from God, understood here as the Creator and the first cause of the myriad of things. In
8a sense, it also retold the mediaeval idea that Aristotle was “the forerunner of Christ.”
Aristotle’s Works Translated into Chinese
According to the famous Chinese historian, Rev. Fang Hao, four Aristotelian books in the form of
commentaries, produced by the Jesuits of Coimbra College in Portugal, were ‘translated’ into
Chinese and made available in China in the late Ming period. They were the Mingli Tan, the Huanyou
9Quan, the Lingyan lishao, and Alphonsus Vagnoni’s Xiu Shen Xi Xuen. I have discovered, in checking
10the Commentarii Collegii Conimbricensis Societatis Jesu, that they were not ‘translations’ at all. Three
of them were in fact freely abridged texts rewritten for the Chinese, giving a Christian
interpretation of Aristotelian works based on Aristotle’s discourses in De Categoriae, De Caelo, and De
Anima along with the commentaries of the Coimbra College. In fact, the Mingli tan was signed as
yiyi (translated as to meaning) by Francisco Furdato and daci (expressed in literary Chinese) by Li
11 12Zhizao; the same case holds for the Huanyou Quan, which was based on the Coimbra
commentary on Aristotle’s De Coelo. The Lingyan lishao, based on the Coimbra commentary on
Aristotle’s De Anima and also freely abridged, was signed as “orally narrated” by Francesco
Sambiasi and transcribed into literary Chinese by Xu Guangqi. Alphonsus Vagnoni’s works titled
Xiu Shen Xi Xue, Qijia Xixue and Zhiguo Xixuen, were rewritten syllabuses in Chinese on
AristotelianThomistic ethics and political philosophy, not translations.
Based on the account in the Commentarii Collegii Conimbricensis Societatis Jesu, we should add to the
list the Suida (Dialogue on Sleeping) by Francesco Sambiasi, which contains texts that are in fact
Chinese rewritings in form of dialogue, rather than a translation of Aristotle’s De Somno et Vigilia
and De Somniis; part of De Somno et Vigilia and De Divinatione per Somnium can also be found in Aleni’s
13Xingxue Cushu, always based on their Coimbra commentaries but with more Chinese references.
Also, the Kongji Gezhi (Investigation of Heavenly Phenomena), signed as zhuan (authored) by Alphonsus
Vagnoni, in fact contains, in its first volume, part of the Coimbra commentary on Aristotle’s De
Generatione et Corruptione, especially that on the four elements and, in its second volume, a good
deal of material from Aristotle’s Meteorology, based on the Coimbra’s commentary of it in the Parva
Naturalia.Why Aristotle?
The reason for the emphasis of early Jesuit missionaries on Aristotle’s philosophy could be
threefold. First, Aristotelian philosophy was emphasized in Jesuit education at that time. In fact it
was included in the education program implemented in their Ratio Studiorum (1585), as recorded in
the Monumenta Paedagogica Societatis Jesu, where we read, “The teaching of Aristotle is to be followed
14 in the order of logic, natural, and moral philosophy and metaphysics.” Also the content of
teaching prescribed in the “Docenda et Defendensa in Philosophia,” and “Docenda in Scholis
Philosophiae,” for example on pages 489–561 of the Monumenta Paedagogica, was very much related
to Aristotle’s philosophy. There are some sixty-three pages in these important historical
documents where Aristotle’s name was mentioned. We can see that the publication of Mingli tan,
Huanyou Quan, Linyan lishao and Xiu Shen Xi Xue followed more or less this prescribed order, though
not completely.
Second, Aristotle’s philosophy was probably considered as capable of offering a philosophical
system compatible with the Christian faith and serving as a philosophical mediation between
different areas of culture such as science, technology, ethics, politics and religion, in laying out
the philosophical foundation of a world vision compatible with both the sciences and Christianity.
This is arguably why Matteo Ricci and his colleagues took it to be attractive to the Chinese mind
and thereby good for their own missionary purposes. Aristotle’s logic, philosophy of nature, theory
of soul, ethics and natural theology, after being re-interpreted by Christian thinkers, were thought
to be most useful in this regard. Their emphasis on Aristotle’s philosophy of nature seemed go well
with their introduction of Western science.
Third, all things considered, this educational program was very compatible with Jesuit
missionary work in the Chinese context, especially for the formation of seminarians and advanced
Chinese believers. For example, the seminarians and Chinese elites needed to be equipped with
Aristotle’s concept of “substance” to argue with or criticize the Buddhist concept of emptiness, the
Daoist concept of nothingness and the Neo-Confucian concept of li or principle as Ultimate Reality.
The Jesuits also sought to get themselves closer to Chinese culture as lovers of moral philosophy
and ethical values and to offer a theory of human nature that could lead to Christian theology. For
all these reasons, Aristotle seemed to offer a solid ground, in their eyes.
Aristotle’s De Anima Rewritten in the Xingxue Cushu
Take Aristotle’s major work De Anima as an example. There are two books related to Aristotle’s De
Anima: the Xingxue Cushu by Aleni and the Linyan lishao by Sambiasi. In what follows, we will first
see how Aristotle’s theory of soul was ‘migrated’ into Chinese thought by way of rewriting. Then
we will discuss a work entitled Xingshuo (A Treatise on Human Nature), written by a Chinese Christian
thinker, to see how Aristotle’s theory of soul was received and transformed by Chinese
The Xingxue Cushu (General Introduction to Science of Human Nature), published in 1623 and signed as
yizhu (i.e., including both translation and composition) by Aleni, was the first to have introduced
systematically Aristotle’s theory of soul. Here we find a definition of anima quite faithful to
Aristotle: “the form of living things, in the Western world, is called by us anima, or soul (hun), that
is the nature of living beings . . . and there are three kinds of soul: nutritive soul, sensible soul and
15spiritual soul.” This definition shows that it understood ‘soul’ in Aristotle’s sense, unlike St.
Thomas’s commentary on De Anima that focussed more on the human soul. Still, Aristotle’s theory
of soul was introduced here in preparation for the Chinese understanding of human’s spiritual
Concerning the so-called ‘spiritual soul’, the early Jesuits in China tried to look for theories of the
human soul in Chinese philosophy. Chinese thought, however, focuses on human nature rather
than the human soul. In Confucianism, this can be traced back to its founders such as Confucius,
Mencius and Xunzi. This Confucian concern with human nature is complemented, throughout
Chinese intellectual history, by the Buddhist concept of foxing (Buddha nature) and the religious
Daoist concept of daoxing (Dao nature). This is why the science of soul introduced with Aristotle’s De
Anima needed to go through some modification in order to fit with the Chinese concern for human
16nature. It is likely for this reason that Aleni named his work on the soul, Xingxue Cushu, thoughhe would preferred to use the term lingxing (spiritual nature), to represent human nature, properly
speaking. Notice the book title on the spine of volumes seven and eight of Xingxue Cushu was
modified into Lingxing Cushu (General Introduction to Spiritual Nature).
Although the title Xingxue Cushu suggests a change of interest from the theory of soul to the
theory of nature, in fact, the book was an appropriation of the Chinese theory of human nature by
the Aristotelian and Christian theory of soul rather than the other way round. Three guidelines
existed simultaneously in Aleni’s Xingxue Cushu: first, to teach, in Chinese terms, Aristotle’s theory
of soul in De Anima, in line with Catholic interpretation and in a way more faithful to Aristotle and
more philosophical than Lingyan lishao, which was published one year later; second, to
communicate the Catholic doctrine of soul and its relation to God to the Chinese; third, to dialogue
with Chinese thought and culture, especially the Chinese theory of human nature.
Though infused through and through with the Catholic faith and Scholastic philosophy and with
the interest of engaging in dialogue with Chinese philosophy, Aleni’s Xingxue Cushu was still
faithful to Aristotle’s theory of soul in the sense that it used the same definition of soul and
discussed in detail, as Aristotle does in De Anima, all the various functions of soul such as, growth,
movement, sensation (sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch), awareness of self, intellect and will
and so on. Apart from its Christian views and dialogical style, the Xingxue Cushu was, in fact, one of
the most argumentative and philosophical works by early Jesuits in China. Even today, it deserves
detailed and close study. The negligence of this work by ticketing it as ‘missionary work’ is quite
unfair to Aleni.
As to the human (spiritual) soul, Aleni expressed the Catholic position by saying that the soul is
unique to each person and created and bestowed to each person by God; that it is immortal after
death; that the soul, though independent of body, is able to perceive and understand and is capable
of pleasure and suffering. These features of the soul reflected a position closer to Platonic dualism
and the separation of body and soul than the Aristotelian attempt to unite body and soul.
The Xingxue Cushu, in dealing with memory and methods of memorizing—very good Aristotelian
themes—is in fact more Platonic than Aristotelian. It emphasizes, mostly through the influence of
St. Augustine, the function of memory, taking memory, together with intellect and will, as the
three spiritual functions of human soul. Indeed, the Xingxue Cushu went against Aristotle by saying
17that the spiritual soul would be able to remember things that happened in one’s lifetime.
It is also interesting to read the Xingxue Cushu’s dialogue with the Chinese view of human nature.
This is clear from the start of the Xingxue Cushu, where we find a section in volume one on the
comparison of the different names of hun (soul) and xing (nature), in the form of a dialogue.
Someone says that in China the terms for hun (soul) and xing (nature) seem to be different in
meaning. Hun (soul) belongs to qi (vital or material force), xing belongs to li (principle). Is there
any different meaning in your use of the terms of hun and xing?
I Answer: The Chinese use of words is indeed very flexibl . . . depending on the context in
which they appear. The use of the term xing is very broad, even non- sentient beings have their
own nature . . . but when we say lingxing (spiritual nature) or tianxing (heavenly nature), we
refer to the nature of meaningfulness and principle that the Creator bestows to human beings.
The same with the term hun (soul). Soul is the principle of life. When combined with sheng (life,
here understood as vegetable life), it denotes the principle by which plants can have growth
and nutrition; when combined with the term jue (sensitive), it denotes the principle by which
animals are capable of sensation and movement; when combined with ling (spiritual), it denotes
18the principle by which human beings can understand and reason.
In the Chinese philosophical tradition, it was Huanglao Daoism that posited qi (vital force) or
jingqi (subtle vital force) as the principle of life in everything, and the spiritual in human beings
that allowed humans to become “sage”. In the Daoist chapter “Nei Ye” (Inner Cultivation) of the
Guanzi, it was said,
Among all things, it is the subtle (qi) that gives life. It gives birth to the five grains down on
the earth and the stars up in the sky. When the Subtle Qi drifts between Heaven and earth, it is
called the ghost and the divine. When it abides in the bosom of a human being, it allows him to19be called a sage.
Against this somehow materialist concept of soul, the idea that that human soul is not qi was
developed in Xingxue Cushu in an entire section titled “Spiritual nature is not qi,” where it was
argued that qi both concentrates, which makes life in plants and animals, and disperses when they
die; yet the human soul is immortal. Also there are cases in which qi is strong whereas the spiritual
soul is weak; contrarily, there are cases in which qi is weak while the soul is strong. These were
considered by Aleni as evidence that the human soul is not qi.
One of the most interesting texts in the Xingxue Cushu is where Aleni uses Chinese philosophical
terms from different Chinese philosophers to name the human soul.
Some would call it spiritual soul, to distinguish it from nutritive and sensitive souls. Some
would call it spiritual heart, to distinguish it from carnal heart. Some call it liangzhi (inborn
knowledge) . . . to say the noumenal natural spirit. Some call it lingtai (spiritual seat) . . . to say
that this heart is the seat of the spiritual soul. Some call it the true self, to make it clear that
the body is a rented house, whereas the inner spirit is my true self. . . . The Daxue (Great
Learning) calls it mingde (enlightening virtue), to say it is light in itself and understands all
principles. Zhong Yong (Doctrine of the Mean) calls it the weifa zhi zhong (centrality before
manifestation), to say that it is the numenal substance from where all feelings are to be
manifested. Mencius calls it dati (great body), to say it is the honorable one. In short, the names
20are different, yet the noumenal substance they refer to is the same.
As we can see, here Aleni referred to Confucian ideas such as Mencius’s concepts of liangzhi and dati,
the Great Learning’s concept of mingde, the Zhong Yong’s concept of weifa zhi zhong, and Daoist
concepts such as Zhuangzi’s concepts of lingtai or zhengjun (here interpreted as zhengwo), though
very different in philosophical content, to denote the same idea of human soul. Such an approach
would have been helpful to draw a sympathetic understanding from the Chinese intellectuals, but
its scholarly soundness is questionable.
Aleni emphasized the idea that the soul is that which makes one a unique individual. He notes
that a question was asked, that since sages like Yao and Shun are the same as the common people
(given that their nature, and their mind/heart are the same), is it true that their difference must
consist only in the fact they are born with different qi and, after being born, they learn and are
influenced in different environments? The answer is that, although they look alike in their body
and in having each a spiritual soul, this would not mean they are one person. Each is a unique
21individual with a unique face and a unique spiritual nature. Although this reads like a criticism
of Averroes’s and Avicenna’s interpretation of Aristotle’s intellectual soul as one, in fact, in the
Jesuits’ Chinese battleground, Aleni did not have to fight with Averroes or Avicenna—unlike St.
Thomas who was defending Catholic positions “contra gentiles” in the Western mediaeval world.
What Aleni was targeting was the Idealist neo-Confucian view, mostly under the influence of
Buddhism, that there is only one Mind. As Lu Xiangsan says, “There is only one Mind. My mind,
my friend’s mind, the mind of sages thousands of years ago, and the mind of sages thousands of
years to come are all the same. The substance of the mind is infinite. If one can completely develop
22his mind, he will become identified with heaven.”
Aleni’s criticism of this understanding of the spiritual soul as one was twofold. First, this
understanding was unable to explain human individuality. Second, even if the human soul can be
in communion with God, it itself is neither God nor to be identified with God as one. In short,
Aleni’s Xingxue Cushu enabled the Chinese theory of human nature to be appropriated by the
Christian reinterpretation of the Aristotelian theory of soul, in identifying the human soul with
human spiritual nature, and as different from other forms of nature and soul.
Linyan lishao’s Rewriting of De Anima
The Linyan lishao, published in 1624, has traditionally been seen by Chinese historians as a Chinese
translation of Aristotle’s De Anima or, more exactly, of the Coimbra commentary on Aristotle’s De
Anima. In fact, it is a free abridgment of the Commentarii Collegii Conimbricensis in libros De Anima
Aristotelis, “orally narrated” by Francesco Sambiasi and transcribed into literary Chinese by Xu